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ClimateGlobal issues

Nations agree on climate deal but weaken stance on coal

November 13, 2021

Negotiators agreed to "phase down" coal and to completely "phase out" subsidies for fossil fuels. The last-minute change sparked "profound disappointment" from delegates and an emotional apology from the COP26 president.

A protester holds a placard displaying a "Stop Climate Crime" slogan during a climate change demonstration outside of the COP26
Climate activists urged world leaders to take more drastic measures to combat the devastating effects of climate changeImage: Andy Buchanan/AFP

Negotiators at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) finalized an agreement on Saturday evening to boost efforts to combat the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.

The agreement comes after negotiations were forced into overtime as countries wrangled over measures to keep alive goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

What was agreed?

One of the more significant measures outlined in the deal includes an agreement urging nearly 200 countries to accelerate moves to  "phase down" coal and to "phase out" fossil fuel subsidies.

The Glasgow Climate Pact also re-commits to the larger goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a key figure considering that the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees since pre-industrial times.

The agreement calls for wealthier nations to significantly raise financial funds for poorer nations to enable them to adapt climate measures.

However, the deal dealt a major blow to poorer nations looking for compensation for "loss and damage" caused by global warming. The United States and the European Union, two of the world's biggest emitters, resisted a financial support scheme.

What were the sticking points?

The major disagreement in the end stretch of negotiations concerned the phrasing over an intended coal phase out — watering it down instead to a weaker "phase down." Coal is currently the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

India led the charge in the last-minute change, saying developing countries still need to use fossil fuels. The pushback from India   over coal also came the same day as New Delhi closed schools for a week over toxic smog.

Many delegates sharply criticized the change, with the envoy for the Marshall Islands voicing "profound disappointment" over the weakening of the commitment on coal.

"This commitment on coal had been a bright spot in this package. It hurts deeply to see that bright spot dim. We accept this change with the greatest reluctance," said envoy Tina Stege.

DW correspondent Alexandra von Nahmen said: "Those countries that were unhappy with the latest developments decided to move forward nevertheless because they want the process to continue. Because for the very first time we have this reference to coal use in an official document, so this is a step forward."

"I think those countries are also hoping that other references in the declaration will help improve the situation, will help all nations have more ambitious goals in the future."

COP26 President Alok Sharma became emotional and apologized to delegates for the rushed process.

"I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I’m deeply sorry. I understand the deep disappointment," he said while holding back tears.

While the wording concerning coal and fossil fuels was weakened, the European Union vowed to redouble global efforts to curb their use.

"We are going to work bloody hard on getting rid of coal, and I believe this conclusion will help us work in that direction," said EU's climate chief Frans Timmermans.

"Having expressed my disappointment … this should not stop us from deciding today on what ... is a historic decision," he added.

COP is just a 'PR event,' says India climate activist

What have the reactions been?

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the summit failed to achieve its goals, but said it did produce "building blocks for progress."

"It is not enough. we must accelerate climate action to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. It is time to go into emergency mode," he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also voiced her disappointment with the results of this year's summit, dismissing the agreements as more "blah, blah, blah."

"But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever," she said on Twitter.

rs/aw (AP, Reuters, AFP)